Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

The Future of Washtenaw Ave

3. December 2009 • Chuck Warpehoski
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Depending on your perspective, Washtenaw Avenue is either an important connection bringing together businesses, commuters, and shoppers in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsi Township and Pittsfield Township or it’s a traffic nightmare, the an danger to pedestrians, and a concentration of ugliness in the county.

A group of community leaders gathered to envision what rules, plans, and incentives should be put in place now for the corridor’s development over the next 20 years and beyond. The initial report has been covered by, Mark Maynard, and Concentrate.

What do you think the future of the corridor should be?

  1. I would say that all the points in your paragraph are true, no either/or.

    Making a plan to span 4 units of government is ambitious. I can see some good visioning possibilities, but who will pay for implementation, and how do you get around the issue of local control?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 3 '09 - 11:20PM    #
  2. So let me get this straight, the great vision for curing the congestion and pedestrian hostility of Washtenaw Avenue is to add more density? And by adding more population and reducing the area between storefronts and the busy street, we will make this a paradise for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and simultaneously convince busy Americans to forgo their automobiles for mass transit? Has this scheme worked in any other mid-western, medium sized town?

    First we need mass transit that runs frequently enough to draw riders who have other alternatives (every 5 or 10 minutes). Then we have to address traffic design to allow pedestrians and bicyclists a safe means of interacting with vehicle traffic. After those features are accomplished, we could study whether greater density would have a positive or negative impact on an already working design. Starting with increased density seems backwards and dangerous.

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 5 '09 - 03:12AM    #
  3. “Has this scheme worked in any other mid-western, medium sized town?”

    Only in the ones that are walkable and bikeable.

    “First we need mass transit that runs frequently enough to draw riders who have other alternatives (every 5 or 10 minutes).”

    The frequency that comes with density that justifies the need to run it that often?

       —John Q.    Dec. 5 '09 - 11:05PM    #
  4. John Q, I guess I was unclear in my query.

    I meant, can you name a particular mid-western community that was built-out as extensively as Ann Arbor where subsequent deliberately increased density resulted in the promised benefits of the Washtenaw Ave. vision?

    In addition to the name of such city, a real example of such cause and effect would include information to demonstrate(1) a mature city with little available open areas for development; (2) a decision by city leaders to implement density based development; (3) an actual increase in dense development; (4) reduced congestion and significantly increased transit utilization and increased reliance non-motorized transportation (4) when compared to other similarly situated communities that did not implement density based development. The comparison in (4) is to control for such things as $4/gallon gas, which increases non-motorized transportation without regard to density increases.

    Density does not result in increased bus frequency. Improved transit service requires extensive planning. Washtenaw Ave. already has sufficient congestion to warrant planning for improved transportation. In Fairfax County Virginia, transit planners have just released a 688 page, ten year transit improvement plan to improve bus routes and increase frequency.


    If it is going to take 10 years to make transit work to reduce congestion, then the improvements need to be started before the density is increased, not after. Pretending that increased density will cause timely transit improvements is magical thinking, not city planning.

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 7 '09 - 09:34PM    #
  5. “I meant, can you name a particular mid-western community that was built-out as extensively as Ann Arbor where subsequent deliberately increased density resulted in the promised benefits of the Washtenaw Ave. vision?”

    Before I get into specifics, let’s agree on the basics. I don’t consider Ann Arbor to be particularly dense or built-out. Outside of downtown and a few neighborhoods around downtown, Ann Arbor isn’t very dense at all. Much of the development is very suburban both in scale and density. In your mind, which city do you consider Ann Arbor to be similar to in size and density and build-out?

       —John Q.    Dec. 7 '09 - 11:33PM    #
  6. I have a couple of different questions. What is the expectation for having whatever this plan becomes implemented, either as to development or to transit?

    I suspect that most of us (whether pro-density or less enthusiastic about it) would have few problems with converting a roadway strip development into a more coherent fabric of well-designed retail and multifamily housing. But as I said before, it spans four jurisdictions. Let’s suppose that all of them agree on some zoning changes and basic development guidelines. Then so what? Who is going to develop all that? It has to make sense financially, for the private developers. I assume that we are talking about private development?

    Oh, by the way, it should be redone with good bikeways and sidewalks to meet its ideals. Where will the (road) transportation dollars come from for that? The Road commission is even cutting back on snow plowing and Michigan may not have dollars to match Federal grants.

    Then the transit – currently AATA serves the Ypsilanti side through contracts that are constantly in danger of being canceled. Now the Ann Arbor city administrator is suggesting “repurposing” the AATA millage to use for trains and connector routes. Does this scenario expect that the county residents will really vote in a 2 mill support for a county-wide transit authority, and Ann Arbor residents will support both the old-new and the new-new?

    Dazzling. Literally. I can’t quite focus because of all the sparkles.

    BTW, I recall that 8-mile near Detroit made an effort of this sort of thing some years ago. Any news of how that worked out?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 8 '09 - 12:59AM    #
  7. John Q, I agree that Ann Arbor is not particularly dense. When I said “built-out”, I meant that it has little vacant land available for new development. That, of course, means that high density development will need to replace something that exists now. For example, the City Place development would replace the 6 historic homes on South Fifth. My friends who live on that street find it to be quite walkable and bikable without destruction of the character of the neighborhood.

    You are correct that most of the residential areas in Ann Arbor are like suburbs, in that they have lawns, trees and living space. To create urban density would require demolition of buildings and development of projects disproportionate in size and distinct in character compared to the surrounding buildings.

    I really don’t have a suggested comparison city. As I recall, it was you who said “the ones that are walkable and bikeable” in response to my query about where increasing density had worked to alleviate congestion. There are lots of college towns of about 100,000 population in the mid-west. Many have the residential size/character of Ann Arbor. I am unaware of any of them testing the density theory so often prescribed as the future for our town. But, that is my point. Density as a means to increased living quality is an untested and risky theory.

    The density proponents really should look to Cleveland, Detroit and other urban landscapes to try their theories. And folks like me who don’t want to live in dense urban areas should seek out quaint college towns like Ann Arbor.

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 8 '09 - 01:07AM    #
  8. Retrofitting Washtenaw Avenue into a mixed-use transit corridor is absolutely an ambitous plan – but also absolutely necessary.

    While Washtenaw Avenue has always and must continue to function as a major transportation line, that by no means requires that the corridor continue to make accessibility by anything other than a personal automobile impossible. We’re not talking about making Washtenaw Avenue a downtown, but we are talking about making it a multi-modal corridor that serves the local community as well as the region.

    One example: the current bus service is the busiest in the system, with plans already underway to increase the level of service (both frequency and service time). However, the lack of a complete non-motorized network linking transit stops, destinations and neighborhoods makes these improvements difficult and less effective at the larger scale.

    There are many many people who already rely daily on the transit and non-motorized options to get to these lifeline activities – and the fact we haven’t invested in making those options safe is as much a social justice issue as it is an environmental or economic development one.

    Also at hand: land uses have evolved to be very segregated from eachother and isolated from neighborhoods. The lack of pedestrian access further segregates these areas, and leaves the many who live along the corridor and report not owning a car dangerously rushing across traffic to access jobs, grocery stores and the like.

    From the market side – there is a good deal of land along Washtenaw Avenue – with services and infrastructure already provided. Updating zoning and master plans to encourage invest in these areas instead of the outlying greenfields makes both environmental and economic sense – and certainly any new development should be according to smart growth standards which integrate uses, neighborhoods and transportation modes.

    The chicken and the egg discussion of whether density or transit comes first is an interesting one, and one that has been debated for decades, but whichever side you are on, what is clear is that we need to change the way we invest in both our land uses and transportation along Washtenaw Avenue. Communities would benefit from vacant land being developed, and neighborhoods would benefit from these areas being accessible to those who cannot or choose not to drive.

    This is a long process, but it needs to start now, while development pressure is low and communities have the time to start such planning efforts.

       —Anya    Dec. 8 '09 - 01:29AM    #
  9. Just a reminder, this is a preliminary step in a very, very long process. Arlington, Virginia had a similar plan that was 30 years in the making. Any visitor to Arlington now would be surprised to know that in the mid-70s it was a series of vacant buildings and strip malls. Adding mixed use building along Washtenaw is HARDLY creating a metropolis like Detroit or Cleveland, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

    Acting like infill development will destroy neighborhood character is uninformed. Take a look at the priorities of this plan, and you’ll see that it targets vacant lots, empty parking lots, and the lack of safe pedestrian walkways.

    So, after sitting in on an R4C R2A meeting, a Burns Park resident asked, “Why don’t they develop that awful empty lot across from Whole Foods?” She said this while talking about her fear that development will change the character of her neighborhood. I told her that if that is her concern, she needs to support ideas like this.

    I can completely understand neighbors’ concerns about development in their backyards, but this isn’t your backyard! Think about it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t own a home, but would like to. I can’t afford to buy in Ann Arbor, but it would be awesome to buy in a quirky mixed use place that has access to transit so I can have the best of both Ann Arbor and Ypsi. The development needs to go somewhere, and of all the places to take issue…Washtenaw Ave isn’t it. If you don’t agree that Washtenaw Ave is a traffic nightmare and eye sore, then I don’t know what! ;-)

    Btw Vivian, the four cities in question ARE on board for shared zoning. A good person to talk to is Mandy Grewal in Pittsfield Township, currently working on their master plan.

       —Rebecca    Dec. 8 '09 - 01:54AM    #
  10. I would be interested in knowing which quaint places we would lose if we allowed development on vacant parking lots.

    To me, by allowing more people to live here and shop nearby—not by bulldozing intact streets, mind you, but by allowing a better use of our office “park” chem lawns, single-story disposable boxes, and empty asphalt—we’ve got a better shot at preserving what we like about the city in the long run. (I could insert the usual references here about the relationship between density and per capita infrastructure costs, transit opportunities, retail health, air and water quality, fossil fuel dependence, etc., but I won’t because I’m sure you all know it.)

    Sprawl has already begun dying its slow death. The cities that flourish will be those that give people a chance to go about their lives being less car dependent while preserving the areas that actually do contribute “character.” I think Ann Arbor should be one of those cities. But it means more people living here, more likely in 3-5 story buildings rather than more high rises. I’m open to ideas for who else might want to chip in for increasingly expensive city services?

       —LiberalNIMBY    Dec. 8 '09 - 02:04AM    #
  11. Rebecca (hope I spelled your name properly), I tried to make it clear that my concerns/questions were about implementation, not goals. And as I said, even if all 4 municipalities agree on the plan, I’m wondering who will pay to implement or whether developers will find it attractive. They’ll want to be able to rent or sell those quirky places at a good price.

    Yes, Mandy Grewal is one of the leaders on that particular action team.

    (There must be some rearrangement going on – between this morning and this afternoon the site for that announcement got lost.)

    BTW, the county is disbanding its planning department. Maybe this effort will continue to be supported through the new economic development department, but staff will be severely reduced with a lot of responsibilities.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 8 '09 - 02:44AM    #
  12. Jack –

    That, of course, means that high density development will need to replace something that exists now. For example, the City Place development would replace the 6 historic homes on South Fifth.

    It’s interesting that you pick a case like that as the counter-proof to this idea. There’s a case where the existing structures have 22 dwelling units on 1.2 acres. (Let’s call it 1.5 gross acres, to provide some allowance for the street.) So that’s an existing 14+ dwelling units per acre.

    I’m going to tell you that is high-density development – by contrast, Ann Arbor as a whole is about 2.8 dwellings/acre. Obviously, we need some space for parks, and the river, etc, but there’s a lot of space to work in – “density” doesn’t mean turning everything into downtown Chicago, or Manhattan, or Paris.

    I think the area needs more neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward – a good example of urban density at around 11-12 units/acre. (Or, I suppose, like that “Germantown” thing the kids are talking about these days.) And, clearly, as a /neighborhood/, that’s something can only be produced organically, over time – but it’s something we need to sow the seeds for. Nobody thinks a strip mall is going to “grow into” that kind of neighborhood, or into a Depot Town kind of business district.

    I share the opinion that we’re a long way from being able to walk away and declare victory. I’m also very pleased to be able to say that your summary of this project as “just add density” is completely off-base – you’re right, the traffic and transit and other aspects need to be addressed too, and everybody who’s been talking about it has started from the assumption that those will be part and parcel of the discussion.

       —Murph    Dec. 8 '09 - 03:56AM    #
  13. Jack (and others), I would say Boulder, Colorado and 28th Street in particular is an example that fits the following criteria (although not in the Midwest).

    (1) a mature city with little available open areas for development; (2) a decision by city leaders to implement density based development; (3) an actual increase in dense development; (4) reduced congestion and significantly increased transit utilization and increased reliance non-motorized transportation (4) when compared to other similarly situated communities that did not implement density based development.

    28th Street was a collection of fast-food restaurants and some small strip malls when I lived there 15 years ago, not unlike Stadium Boulevard or Washtenaw Ave. Today, while many of those remain, they are interspersed with residential developments, new retail, bike lanes, sidewalks, bus stops, etc. If you didn’t know what it had looked like, you would assume that nothing has changed, but it looks a lot nicer now, has a much better feel, and seems to function well. There still are large parking lots, but they are tucked in and around the buildings and most of the buildings come to the sidewalks or close. Public transportation in Boulder is fabulous, with seven Link-type routes running every 10 to 15 minutes within the city, plus the very functional and easy-to-use regional bus (and some light-rail) system linking Boulder with Denver and the surrounding suburbs. Hard to tell cause and effect, but it can be done.

    We are starting to do some of this with Stadium Boulevard, but it is a long process. Washtenaw would take longer, but I think would be so valuable. I much prefer the eastern side of Washtenaw closer to Eastern where it becomes narrower, with more residential and some of the older, kind of cool retail. The western side closer to Ann Arbor is mostly just really ugly set-back strip malls and parking lots. For many of these areas, there could be more attractive and probably more viable retail. No reason to think housing couldn’t easily be part of the mix as there is residential right behind all the strip buildings now.

       —Juliew    Dec. 8 '09 - 04:24AM    #
  14. I’ll second Murph’s point about the difference between the block of houses on Fifth and the strip malls on Washtenaw east of Platt Rd. No comparison—only contrast.

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 8 '09 - 05:25AM    #
  15. I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuv density. Density has great advantages. It tends to drive up property values and increases traffic for local retailers. Look had heavily populated urban areas around the world such as London, Manhattan, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Macau and you see some of the highest standards of living in the world.

    Put in mass transit in any form and you facilitate density.

    A mixed-use transit corridor is the proper way to go. As Steve Ballmer once declared: Development! Development! Development!

    Development creates economic growth. Look at the City of Houston during the 1970s and 80s: No zoning laws and it was one of the fastest growing cities in America.

       —Kerry D.    Dec. 8 '09 - 06:31AM    #
  16. I guess that it is time for us all to study Boulder (Colorado) to see what folks are mapping out for us. Some councilmembers (Margie Teall particularly comes to mind) get almost rhapsodic about that city. Apparently there was a conference there and everyone “got religion”.

    Here is an updated discussion of their transit and development plans. It says that congestion has increased.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 8 '09 - 06:02PM    #
  17. “You are correct that most of the residential areas in Ann Arbor are like suburbs, in that they have lawns, trees and living space.”

    Jack, they are not “like suburbs”, they are identical to the suburban development you can find all over southeastern Michigan. I think you’re creating a false impression of the city that it’s 28 square miles of dense, historic neighborhoods when most of the city is neither. Outside of downtown and some adjacent neighborhoods, most of the residential, commercial and office development in Ann Arbor could be found in Livonia or Sterling Heights or Troy. For better or worse, most of Ann Arbor has developed in a suburban style.

    I’m not an advocate for going into existing neighborhoods and forcing new development that is out-of-scale to what exists today. Not only do I think it’s unnecessary but it’s also counterproductive. There’s many ways to increase the density within the city in ways that don’t require driving a bulldozer through the Old West Side.

    As for Washtenaw Avenue, I need to be educated on the wonderful qualities of that corridor that you see and I’m missing that would be harmed by redevelopment of this in the nature that has been proposed. Will you miss the large parking lots? Or is it the suburban setbacks of the buildings? Maybe the 5 lanes of traffic?

    To your question of what “midwestern city” (and why are we limiting ourselves to the midwest?) would be a good example of where density = increased quality of living, why look any further than Ann Arbor? I think most people would agree that the areas around downtown with the dense, walkable residential neighborhoods are good examples of quality of life co-existing with density. If you don’t think so, there’s 100 other suburban towns in Southeast Michigan where you can enjoy suburban style density. As Murph noted, the area you called out as an example of not needing redevelopment is developed at a density far beyond what 80% of Ann Arbor is developed at today.

       —John Q.    Dec. 8 '09 - 06:04PM    #
  18. FWIW, I’d love to see Washtenaw Avenue made anew. Much better than disrupting established neighborhoods. There is one residential neighborhood in what I think is the Pittsfield Township portion – hope that would receive the respect and attention needed.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 8 '09 - 07:20PM    #
  19. Vivienne, I actually think it would be a great mistake to emulate Boulder. I brought it up because Jack asked for examples of a city and I gave him one that I know about (my husband is from Boulder). Boulder is a very different city from Ann Arbor. Little things, like, oh, it doesn’t really have a downtown, it has a very different climate from Ann Arbor, it has a strong region-leading city in Denver, it has great constraints on land, it has no water, the former mayor of Denver became transportation secretary, etc. mean that the cities are different in many important ways.

    Boulder has very strict limits on building heights and land use so they have had huge problems with availability of housing and very high housing prices (median was $500,000 a few years ago). Congestion is high because such a huge proportion of people commute in from other places. Only very recently have large building projects (primarily redevelopment projects because Boulder is almost entirely built out) begun to have an effect on housing prices and livability (the page to which you refer is from 2006, and is based on 2002 data).

    I do think, though, that they are doing a lot of things right now in response to their problems of the last decade. I also think they are far ahead of us in terms of design, sustainable building, and zoning (which really is very neighborhood friendly). They are building lots of attractive, sustainable (it is required) small three and four-story projects with parking rather than one-story and twenty-story buildings, which I think would be a better choice for much of Ann Arbor. What are we doing here that prevents this sort of building and what could we do to foster it? Here is a link to one such project built on a vacant drive-in theatre lot. I think it is important to look at other cities to see what mistakes and successes they have had. Boulder is just one of these.

       —Juliew    Dec. 8 '09 - 09:57PM    #
  20. Can we please put the “congestion” boogeyman to bed? Think of any economically successful place that isn’t “congested.” The places in the country with the highest transit and nonmotorized use are extremely congested. We have one of the lowest commute times in the country, I hear. (Not coincidentally, we’re also one of two states who is losing population.)

    More people will absolutely mean more cars, but if there’s a demand for smaller units in the right places (e.g., multifamily along transit corridors), there will be fewer car trips per capita. If people want to add to the congestion on Washtenaw Ave by commuting in, we can’t stop them, we can only “tax” them with higher parking rates.

       —LiberalNIMBY    Dec. 8 '09 - 11:36PM    #
  21. Returning to my original question (comment #2). How will additional density on Washtenaw Avenue cure the problem of congestion and the problem of hostility to pedestrian and bicycle traffic?

    For purposes of this question, we should accept as true that the problem is congestion and hostility to non-motorized traffic. If the proposed cure is density, then we need to find a testable hypothesis which can prove or disprove the theory that density can cure congestion. That testable hypothesis should control for other factors.

    In comment #4, I suggested testing the density theory by comparing with the experience of another town. Use a city that previously had a congestion problem and demonstrate a reduction in congestion due solely (or primarily) to the addition of development density. Make sure to control for other factors. I would add that we should also exclude irrelevant subjects such as the quality of current or hoped-for development (because density does not address quality and quality can happen without density).

    I asked for an example of where the density-cures-congestion theory has been successfully implemented because I am unaware of any such experiment. I asked for a mid-western example because the weather in the mid-west creates unique non-motorized transportation challenges. I asked for small-college-town examples, so we wouldn’t (yet again) compare 100,000 population Ann Arbor with 293,000 population Boulder CO, or with New York or Chicago, etc. A comparison with a similar town also allows evaluation of the resulting character after adding density. The old townies in Austin lament their failure to protect the character of their town (“keep Austin weird”).

    So, I am not defending the current state of Washtenaw Avenue. I am not suggesting that we leave the congestion unaddressed. I am merely saying that there is no evidence that increasing density in an area like Washtenaw Avenue will have a positive impact on the congestion problem.

    The congestion on Wastenaw has an adverse impact on the residential neighborhoods surrounding the commercial development. If additional density on Washtenaw adds to congestion, it will have further negative consequences for those residents who need to travel through that congestion. That is the risk of implementing untested theories.

    If there is some experience in another similarly situated town to demonstrate that adding density might have a positive affect on congestion, then the density theory might be worth the risk. I just asked whether such an example exists.

    If we want to cure congestion, we should do something that might actually have an impact on congestion. If we are addressing issues other than congestion, then we should identify those issues and evaluate possible remedies for those problems. If we are proposing density because we like density, then we should stop pretending that density will cure congestion.

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 9 '09 - 02:16AM    #
  22. Jack,

    You’re misrepresenting the information that was provided in the links at the beginning of the article. There hasn’t been any promise to “cure the problem of congestion”. The only places where congestion has been cured is those that have lost population to such a degree that once busy streets have been left desolate. See Detroit or Flint. What transit oriented development, as has been proposed for Wash. Ave., accomplishes is the reduction of congestion compared to the alternatives. Along with that reduction comes a lot of benefits that come from encouraging/requiring more dense and more walkable and bikeable development. Density by itself won’t lead to those benefits. You can have lots of density and no walkability. See Tysons Corners, VA, although that is changing. But if you tie increased density into those improvements in transit, walking and biking and other factors noted in the Wash. Ave. proposal, you can have a net reduction in congestion compared to doing nothing or pursuing the typical suburban “solutions” to congestion.

       —John Q.    Dec. 9 '09 - 08:24AM    #
  23. All this high-falutin’ urban planning aside, my personal priorities for Washtenaw Avenue are:

    1) twist arms until we get the bus stop back in Arborland.
    2) make sure that all future mall construction on Washtenaw has plenty of parking — WHole Foods/B&N is a disaster.

    Fix these two things, and you will have made a lot of people happy.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 9 '09 - 07:58PM    #
  24. A new story on this out today on quotes Mandy Grewal.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 9 '09 - 08:06PM    #
  25. Regarding congestion, while I agree with John Q. that this project does not claim to solve congestion, one component of it does address congestion.

    A big part of the congestion issue on Washtenaw is all the places you have to navigate people turning in and out.

    Part of the report deals with encouraging “pulse node” development. Basically, rather than have a long stretch of undifferentiated strip malls, try to focus density into a few spots with higher density (not high-rise, but not single-story big box store). With a few of these pulse nodes, you have fewer traffic slowdowns as people try to turn in and out of each individual strip mall.

    Regarding walkability, a big part of walkability is having places to walk to. My current neighborhood is very walkable because I can easily get to grocery stores, hardware stores, a pharmacy, a party store, etc.

    On the other hand, where I grew up is not very walkable at all because there’s nowhere to walk to.

    I think a pedestrian-friendly Washtenaw Ave would need to be mixed-use so that potential walkers have both a “from” and a “to” for their journeys in the area.

    In the planning process, we also discussed other amenities that would make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly. Landscaping, for example, could make a big difference. As could continuous sidewalks (I feel sorry for anyone with a walker or a stroller who tries to get from the Rec Center at County Farm Park to Whole Foods in the winter).

    We can do better than the status quo, and I’m glad that the county, the cities, the townships, and other groups have come together to try find a way to do better.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 9 '09 - 09:48PM    #
  26. Pfft. I love that walkscore lists the Kroger “floral shop” as your closest grocery store, “H&R Block” as the nearest school, and Math Reviews as the closest library…. I think the end result is probably correct in this case, but in general this kind of thing makes their rankings really unreliable.

    Agreed, of course, on the importance of having those “places to walk to”.

       —Bruce Fields    Dec. 10 '09 - 02:49AM    #
  27. John Q. Whether the links identify congestion as a problem on Washtenaw or not, my comment in #2 asked whether the idea of additional density had worked to reduce congestion in any small mid-western town. You replied in comment #3 – “Only in the ones that are walkable and bikeable.”

    Are you now saying that density is not the answer to congestion (and walkability/bikeability) and that the Washtenaw plan is not meant to address congestion?

    The Northeast Area Plan, the non-motorized transportation plan and the Area, Height and Placement project all describe high density development as a means of reducing dependence on individual motorized vehicle transportation. This is the template that overlays the changes being proposed in City zoning proposals. I simply do not believe that this theory has any basis in experience or even reasonable conjecture.

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 10 '09 - 03:10AM    #
  28. In the above you seem to assume that “reducing dependence on individual motorized vehicle transportation”, “reducing congestion”, and “walkability/bikeability”, all go hand-in-hand. What’s the basis for that assumption?

       —Bruce Fields    Dec. 10 '09 - 03:18AM    #
  29. “Are you now saying that density is not the answer to congestion (and walkability/bikeability) and that the Washtenaw plan is not meant to address congestion?”

    No. Read the plan. It clearly states that more dense development in a transit-oriented model will reduce congestion more than other alternatives. You stated that the goal was to “cure” congestion which was not what was stated in the plan. My comments acknowledged that high density can be done in a way that exacerbates congestion. That’s not is what is proposed along Washtenaw.

       —John Q.    Dec. 10 '09 - 06:31AM    #
  30. John, To which of the documents on the “Action Team” site are you referring as the plan?

    ULI Principles of Reinventing Suburban Strips?
    ReImagining Washtenaw Avenue Action Team Charter?
    Washtenaw Avenue Implementation Matrix?
    Washtenaw Avenue Presentation for Action Team Use (aka – Roadshow Presentation)?

    Or, am I missing something on their page?

       —Jack Eaton    Dec. 10 '09 - 09:50PM    #
  31. Roadshow presentation.

       —John Q.    Dec. 10 '09 - 09:57PM    #
  32. Chuck’s comments in #25 struck a chord with me. We can certainly do better than the status quo. And we may get a lot more bang from our buck by investing in simple action rather than elaborate planning. Why not provide continuous sidewalks and do some landscaping?

    As a field, “urban planning” seems to suffer from an excess of abstraction and an excess of $-burni ng plans and consultants, when a focus on tangible and immediate incremental improvements would be more useful.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 12 '09 - 07:28PM    #
  33. I’ve just been getting caught up with this thread and I like what Fred is saying about “too much abstraction” in the urban planning field. I also like Jack’s repeated requests for some real-world proof that the proposals for higher density on Washtenaw won’t simply make the current problems worse. I’m glad Jack is challenging the assumption that increasing density along this strip would improve it. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to expect our urban planners to base their assumptions (and the plans that derive from those assumptions) on approaches that have been field-tested with positive results.

    Many planning theories touted in college classrooms sound wonderful, but are not easily applied to the “real world.” That’s because the real world has existing buildings and roads, along with existing businesses and homes. Here’s the worst part for theorists: these homes and business are owned and occupied by real people who often have very strong opinions about the places they live and work, not to mention a financial interest. Implementation of theories requires not only the cooperation of these folks, but also the taxpayers as a whole, and let’s not forget the developers, who generally work off a completely different set of theories (ones that are generally road-tested to death).

    How does an urban planner go about changing a fully built-out, linear commercial strip, several miles long, to “pulse-nodes?” Is Arborland considered to be a “pulse-node?” What about the Barnes and Noble/Whole Foods development? Are these considered successful (i.e., well-planned and functioning well)? How would one convince all the strip mall owners (and their tenants) that they needed to move into a pulse-node development? And who would pay for it? Would conversion of a strip mall into a pulse-node require pushing the commercial zoning deeper into the residential areas behind the strip? These are sincere questions. If I could be convinced that there was some way to convert Washtenaw into a proven, more Utopian model that wouldn’t cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg, was support by the businesses and property owners along the way, AND, was clearly profitable for developers, I would be the first one to support it.

    Traffic congestion, in my opinion, is the number one issue currently. It would seem to me that the linear development along Washtenaw, and its primary function as a major east-west connector, would be ideal for a rapid bus system. Ridership of the current bus routes show that this route is extremely popular. Build inexpensive platforms every half-mile where folks can pre-pay, and wheelchairs can roll right on. Perhaps in better economic times (25-30 years from now?) these platforms could be improved to accommodate a light rail system, like Houston has along Main Street. It is a proven success, at least from a ridership point of view. The trains share traffic lanes with cars along much of the route, with special traffic signals clearing the way to give the train priority. The same could be done for a rapid bus system (implemented incrementally to avoid a huge start-up cost).

    Finally, if we put a lot of energy and effort into making Washtenaw (or Stadium/Maple or Plymouth for that matter) into a dense and desirable commercial/residential strip, what is to become of the dense Downtown we’ve all been planning? At the same time, there are all these plans to make it easier for commuters to get into the City via rail (and not live here). Everything I’m reading about the future for Michigan, it’s economy and its population, indicates that both will continue to shrink, perhaps for decades. Past population trends for Ann Arbor show, on average, less than .5% growth per year over 40 years. If we continue to promote development outside Downtown, or continue to make it easier for people to commute into Ann Arbor, are we not shooting downtown density in the foot? Again, these are sincere questions. Do folks really think there’s going to be so much growth in this area that we’ll be able to do it all?

    P.S. – I’m very happy to see more than one comment that concedes that the older neighborhoods surrounding downtown are already considered to be high density. Comments on previous threads seemed to be promoting even higher density (i.e., in favor of tearing down houses and replacing them with apartment buildings). Again, that would water down the market for density in Downtown proper.

       —Tom Whitaker    Dec. 12 '09 - 09:51PM    #
  34. “Finally, if we put a lot of energy and effort into making Washtenaw (or Stadium/Maple or Plymouth for that matter) into a dense and desirable commercial/residential strip, what is to become of the dense Downtown we’ve all been planning?”

    Past planning estimates have been based on Ann Arbor continuing to grow along the largely suburban pattern that is has for the past 50 years. If you encourage density downtown and along corridors like Washtenaw, you’re heading down a different path than those that the population estimates were based on. To your question about whether a denser Washtenaw Ave. would detract from downtown, I would say no. The two areas serve different populations and in the future would attract residents with different interests and needs.

       —John Q.    Dec. 13 '09 - 08:13AM    #
  35. I don’t disagree with your statements, in theory, but if the CURRENT planning estimates show little or no growth, perhaps even shrinkage in population and the economy, what then? It seems to me, that despite several years of recession, loss of property values, and shrinkage of population, we still have planners and politicians who are pushing the idea that we are about to explode with growth. What good are all these revised master plans going to do for us in the next 5-15 years, if, as predicted, our city (and state) continues to shrink? What guidance will be in these documents for our future leaders about how to manage a shrinking city? What good will boomtown plans be?

    I think the current planning focus ought to be on how to improve what we have, with an eye towards good growth management, should that, by some miracle, come to pass.

       —Tom Whitaker    Dec. 14 '09 - 03:11AM    #
  36. According to SEMCOG, Washtenaw County is now projected to grow about 25,000 in population over the next 25 years, while Ann Arbor is projected to be stable and has even dropped slightly.

    I recall that part of the county’s earlier population growth (sprawl) was migration from other SE Mich counties. Also, the number of housing units went up compared to population because the size of households shrank. That was part of the housing bubble – people looking for bigger cheaper houses with bigger yards than they could find in other counties. (The suburban pattern mentioned by John Q.) Those are not likely to relocate either downtown or along a dense mixed-use corridor such as we are envisioning.

    All to support Tom’s point about – why are we planning for growth? Or do we think that if the plans exist, people will come and we can push growth?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 14 '09 - 09:43PM    #
  37. Tom raises a good question, will there be growth that this project can harness?

    A few thoughts on that:

    1. The current zoning and planning is 50 years old, even in the worst case scenario I think we can expect some construction on Washtenaw over the next 50 years.

    2. Now, when demand is low, is in many ways the best time to create plans like this because we don’t have to deal with the pressure of particular proposals so we can take the time to envision what we would like on the corridor.

    3. If anything is to be built in the county over the next 50 years, what is the model likely to be? In The Option of Urbanism,, UM professor Christopher Leinberger makes a strong case that suburban development is over-built and that “walkable urbanism” is under-built. He argues that both young professionals and empty-nesters are both showing a preference for mixed-use communities and that the supply of this type of development does not meet the demand.

    4. If Leinberger is correct that young professionals are increasingly looking for walkable urban places to live, then creating those spaces will be vital if Michigan is to attract and retain the knowledge workers to create a viable economy. Yes, there is a chicken-and-egg situation here between jobs and talent, but as Michigan Future reports, many of our university graduates are leaving the state to urban places like Boston and Chicago without even looking for jobs here. That tells me we need to look into creating both the job opportunities and the lifestyle opportunities if we want to attract and retain that talent.

    Long story short, I think this is worthwhile even now in a down economy.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 14 '09 - 09:50PM    #
  38. Let me raise another <a href=“”>contrarian</a> point.

    One of the fundamental assumptions of this project is that it is possible to create a unified Washtenaw Avenue. Yet we all know that there is a gigantic “zone of death” that bisects Washtenaw Avenue, namely the US-23 interchange. It is a long stretch of uninterruptedly automotive and not very pleasant experience that is best traversed by bus or car. Creating pleasant pedestrian paths or bikeways in that space would require an enormous amount of asphalt and landscaping and would still be problematic given the length of the interchange, the amount of CO2 and noise emitted along it, and the “sinklike” topography of the underchange.

    Would it be more sensible – less overreaching – to take the stance that there are two Washtenaw Avenue corridors, one in Ann Arbor and one in Ypsilanti, and that they need not be especially well integrated?

    Sometimes it feels like it is further from Arborland to Hogback than from Ann Arbor to Saline.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 14 '09 - 10:27PM    #
  39. The graduates leave for Boston and Chicago because they are large vibrant urban centers. Ann Arbor will never be close. Those mixed use areas will only work is they are already close to where the majority of jobs are (downtown). It might work if it is close to a major transit location that gets people to their jobs, as long as the dominant street going through is relatively slow-paced and pedestrian friendly (think cruising strip). Washtenaw is a major throughfare and the wrong location for something like this. Maybe an extension of the Main Street vibe southward or another location like Green Street off of Plymouth or the area around Packard and Platt would be better, provided that there is a quick and regular transit linkage to downtown Ann Arbor and the U of M Campus, both central and north.

       —jcp2    Dec. 15 '09 - 06:24PM    #
  40. Good point – in fact, isn’t Washtenaw a state highway? And who would want to live near 23 for “quality of life”? I’m sure there is constant highway noise.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 15 '09 - 06:58PM    #
  41. I disagree. I think there’s a perception that college students or “hipsters” or urban dwellers are the only people who want to live in such an environment. But there are people who want to have the benefits that could come with such a design who don’t necessarily want to live “downtown” or who will live there for an urban experience. I don’t know what Washtenaw’s designation is but being a state highway doesn’t imply that it can’t be more pedestrian friendly. Rochester Road is a state highway that runs right through downtown Rochester in Oakland County.

       —John Q.    Dec. 15 '09 - 08:49PM    #
  42. It’s not the state highway designation, but rather that it functions as a major trunk line for central Ann Arbor and also a major (if not the major) connector between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. As such, it will be always be a formidable obstacle between unifying the north and south sides of the street.

    Why not focus on the Plymouth corridor instead? Most of the retail and housing is already segregated to the north side, so the problem of a major street transecting through an otherwise pedestrian friendly area is avoided. The Pfizer/U of M campus is there on the other side, as one likely spot where this new talent will be employed. Access to all other parts of the University, including the medical center and North Campus, is much more straightforward, and the University already runs its own transit network. There are existing pedestrian and cycling paths along Plymouth that are already used for commuting to downtown and the university. The proposed university transit center (alright, new parking structure) is close to the base of Plymouth.

    It might just be me, but northeast Ann Arbor has a younger and fresher feel to it. Maybe it’s the new library, maybe it’s the larger presence of graduate students, maybe it’s the new construction that’s already up. It’s ready and open for even more.

       —jcp2    Dec. 15 '09 - 11:38PM    #
  43. With the addition of the north-south split across the street, plus the E-W split at the US-23 interchange, we’re up to four distinct neighborhoods split by almost impenetrable traffic obstacles. This seems like a hard problem.

    This is a classic urban planning dilemma: invest in growth areas where there are easy wins, or pour resources into trying to transform declining areas. I think it would be much more sensible to focus on incremental improvements to Washtenaw—hey, maybe even two pedestrian bridges, one for AA, one for Ypsi!

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 16 '09 - 12:24AM    #
  44. “As such, it will be always be a formidable obstacle between unifying the north and south sides of the street.”

    We very likely passed world peak oil production last year. In the very near future we will have the opportunity to remove lanes from roads like Washtenaw. It won’t “always” be what it currently is.

    A good video on the implications of peak oil, called “Blind Spot”, is available from the AADL. I’m happy to note that there’s a long list of patrons on the waiting list for it. (The more holds on an item, the more copies the library will purchase.) An online site that provides a series of short, yet comprehensive, videos on peak oil is We showed part 1 during our Dec. 3 Environmental Commission meeting, which will probably be replayed again this month on CTN. We’ll show parts 2 and 3 in February (and maybe April.)

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 16 '09 - 12:32AM    #
  45. Let’s say that “Peak Oil” has already happened and the number of cars on Washtenaw decreases and the desired New Urbanism happens in the Washtenaw corridor. With long commutes very costly, everybody will want to live in this area, and the young professionals targeted for this area will be priced out of the market.

       —jcp2    Dec. 16 '09 - 05:42AM    #
  46. Steve, I would be delighted if the supply of oil decreased to the point where we are shutting lanes on major automotive thoroughfares, but it is wildly optimistic to think that it will happen “in the very near future.” Besides, “green” vehicles are just as capable of creating traffic congestion as those burning fossile fuel.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 17 '09 - 11:23PM    #
  47. Fred, I’ll gladly examine the basis for your belief that such a scenario is “wildly optimistic” if you’ll provide it. In the meantime, you might take a look at the basis of my perspective which I provided a link to and see if your thinking is changed.

    You might also learn that the promise of “green” vehicles is limited in ways that aren’t obvious and aren’t ‘advertised’, so to speak.

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 18 '09 - 06:29AM    #
  48. The Boston Globe recently published an op-ed about the environment and urban density. Here’s one quote:

    The urban fabric is a key weapon against climate change. Cities allow us to walk, ride a bike, and take transit. “Growing Cooler,’’ a study by SmartGrowth America and the Urban Land Institute, showed that compact development – basically, being able to live, work, and shop within a 20-minute radius – can reduce vehicle miles traveled by as much as 30 percent. There is still much empirical analysis to be done on the relationship between the built environment and greenhouse gas emissions, but walking to the corner store for a gallon of milk is one of the greenest contributions any of us can make.

    Studies like this are a big reason I support the thinking behind efforts like the Washtenaw Ave plan and the AHP project.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 18 '09 - 09:08PM    #
  49. The peaking of oil production has been predicted regularly since the 1950s. The fallacy is that the available supply of a commodity increases rapidly with the willingness to pay more for it. As the price of gasoline has gone up, we are seeing a gradual transition to electric-powered cars. Most of the electricity is generated from coal (the cheapest and most abundant fuel). Coal is worse for the environment than oil. (A century ago, the automobile was hailed as improving air quality by eliminating horse dung from the streets). In whatever form, the cost of auto fuel will increase gradually and most people will pay it, rather than incurring the huge hit of abandoning house and car for a bike Utopia. No matter your personal lifestyle preferences, you will not see a carless Washtenaw.

       —Henry Brysk    Dec. 18 '09 - 09:59PM    #
  50. “The peaking of oil production has been predicted regularly since the 1950s.”

    Actually, in 1956 M. King Hubbert accurately predicted the 1970 US oil production peak.

    “The fallacy is that the available supply of a commodity increases rapidly with the willingness to pay more for it.”

    This is clearly wrong. Oil (or fuel) cannot magically increase in supply in response to our wishes. Fossil fuels are limited in supply. What exists in the ground today is what we have left. Wanting more doesn’t increase the supply, it only increases the price. The rate of extraction from the ground follows a predictable curve that fits Hubbert’s model wherein a peak is reached and after which production declines.

    The “gradual transition to electric-powered cars” is occurring so slowly* and in an economic environment that won’t be able to support a complete transition, the ultimate number of electric cars will be far below the number currently in use, not even taking into account the environmental impacts of coal.

    Like many people that I’ve engaged in discussion with on this subject, Henry reads “reduction” as “elimination” and “less” as “none”. The scenario I’m referencing is clear, it’s our thinking that it shouldn’t happen that is the fallacy that leads to further misinterpretation and denial. Watch the videos and learn something. Or pretend that you have nothing to learn—your choice.

    [* ‘Sadly, hybrid sales still represent just 2% of total vehicles sold so far this year: approximately 240,00 were sold through October 2009 (Prius represented almost half, at 118,290) versus 8.6 million total vehicle units in the same time period. By comparison, Ford Motor Co. sold 334,922 F-150 pickup trucks alone in the same time period.’]

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '09 - 01:16AM    #
  51. Steve, I have read a lot of serious nonfiction about peak oil that, alas, I don’t have time to summarize in this forum. I even published a book about oil wars called GLOBALISTAN by Pepe Escobar (Nimble Books, 2007). Check it out! THe author is a kindred spirit to you, you’ll probably like it. ;-)

    Modern history is full of examples of things happening that we didn’t expect, so I wouldn’t rule out a sudden collapse of the car economy (as you seem to be suggesting is imminent), but the probability doesn’t seem high enough to me to serve as a basis for urban planning.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 19 '09 - 01:36AM    #
  52. This is an interesting conversation because it does get to some basic questions about how we process information and assumptions in forecasting the future – which directly leads to urban planning questions. Sometimes cause and effect are conflated in decision-making, which leads to disastrous results. Or models are too simple and ignore important trends and factors. Steve’s scenario may be too extreme (though he gets a big fist-bump from me as a fellow peak oiler) but he points out the importance of realizing that the future is not easily predicted by the past in all cases. I refer you to the book, “The Black Swan”, subtitled “The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is directed more at financial issues, but if you can get through the language (requires a great deal of right-brain thinking, or maybe some other part of the brain), it introduces a number of other ways to look at probability – in fact makes fun of the normal curve. (He doesn’t directly predict the financial meltdown but too bad more people didn’t read it when it came out in 2007.)

    I get annoyed when people take SEMCOG projections too seriously, for example. They are simply linear projections of past trends. (Unless there is a study designed to introduce new factors.)

    Chaos theory, anyone?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 19 '09 - 02:50AM    #
  53. I don’t suggest it as a basis for planning, but as valuable context.

    As for a collapse of the car economy, you seem to be overlooking what has happened to the Big Three in recent years. It’s already happening. As is noted in the postpeakliving video, the US fleet turnover period has increased to 20+ years. All those people who bought SUVs in the last ten years won’t be able to sell them to anyone and they won’t be able to afford to buy hybrids or plug-ins (assuming that many are even available) if they can’t sell their old vehicles. And that’s just one piece of the picture.

    Declining oil supplies are inextricably tied to the economic crisis. We missed the window of opportunity we had several decades ago when capital was available to transition to new car technologies. The current economy won’t allow it, and the current economy is the future economy—declining cheap energy supplies will see to that.

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 19 '09 - 02:51AM    #
  54. How many of these SUV’s were purchased new on a loan rather than leased? A lot of the older SUVs on the road are second or third hand purchases by people unable to afford a new car in the first place. It’s not quite the same as being underwater on a house, as the leased vehicles were returned to the bank (think Chrysler Financial or GMAC) which Uncle Sam fixed for us already. The Big Three collapse was only exacerbated by the economic crises; the rot was happening even in the early Seventies. I would look for total global vehicle sales as a marker rather than the domestic share of the U.S. market.

       —jcp2    Dec. 19 '09 - 03:33AM    #
  55. I am a physicist who spent a lot of time on energy research (a decade each on nuclear fusion and on seismology). I have read many rosy scenarios and many gloomy scenarios. None of them panned out, perhaps because they were based more on wishful thinking than on science and economics. Far more oil has been extracted than Hubbert thought existed. Current oil wells pump out about a third of the oil in a reservoir; more will be extracted when a higher oil price makes more elaborate methods economical. There is more oil in the Canadian tar sands than in Saudi Arabia, at a cost approaching break-even. At a higher price, there is vastly more oil in shale in the Rockies (energy independence, anyone?). Yes, oil is a finite resource, but it will not be exhausted in our lifetimes. I agree that there are environmental drawbacks to it, but you will need to try to curb it in the political process, you cannot just wish it away with junk science. Similarly, you may hate cars but they will not conveniently vanish. People will continue to drive their pickup trucks to work while paying more for gas, because the alternative is ruinous. The capital costs of fundamentally restructuring society are enormous, which is why change in a democracy is incremental (as against under Pol Pot). That was Vivienne’s point, in more mundane terms. We have had 2 non-interacting streams in this thread: One group has talked about the Utopia they would prefer to the present reality, shrugging off how to get there. The other, smaller group has worried about whether a modest improvement is achievable given the dire economic status of Michigan and its public sector.

       —Henry Brysk    Dec. 19 '09 - 08:30AM    #
  56. Recent parking counts from the DDA show that usage in the parking system continues to increase.

    The real agenda of those who are advocating “alternative modes of transportation” is to create an Ann Arbor of 500,000 people. A city of that size would necessitate a heavily subsidized mass transit system. So they want mass transit first, in order to pave the way for “Ann Arbor as Chicago”.

       —David Cahill    Dec. 19 '09 - 07:19PM    #
  57. #55: Explain again what my point was, please? I’m sure others would like to know too. I reread my chaos post and didn’t see anything about incrementalism; rather the concept involves changes to a system when the equilibrium receives so many changed inputs that it leaps to a new mean (crudely explained, but then I’m neither a physicist nor a mathematician).

    I think we saw some hint of that when gas prices went up in the summer of 2008. There were some real behavioral changes going on, and the “cash for clunkers” program anecdotally changed out many behemoths for gas-savers. One could argue that it was the final blow to two car companies (resurrected by massive infusion of taxpayer funds). I think that many of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Oil prices are down partly because of the economic collapse a year ago.)

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 19 '09 - 07:45PM    #
  58. Vivienne,

    I suspect the $144/barrel price for oil last summer has more to do with the way markets operate, short term, than with the fundamentals of long term supply and demand. Henry is right, there is a shortage of $10/barrel oil but not $100/barrel oil in the world. There is also a large source of natural gas (Iran uses lots of natural gas for transportation since it does not have much refining capacity and would prefer to sell oil on the international market.) The “Cash for Clunkers” program showed there was pent-up demand for fuel efficient vehicles and I personally think it is too bad it was ended after only two months. If the program had been extended for a whole year (at a cost of about $50 billion), I think a lot of confidence in the economy would have been restored; there would have been a major positive ripple effect. Given the trillions of dollars used to prevent another Great Depression, $50 billion is pocket change.
       —ChuckL    Dec. 19 '09 - 11:29PM    #
  59. Cash for Clunkers – Edmunds estimates the program cost about $24,000 per $2000 clunker retired with new purchase rebate, and the F-150 and Silverado were among the top ten vehicles purchased under the plan. I’d rather take my $24,000 directly, thank you very much, and use it for something else. I’m not really in the market for a car now.

       —jcp2    Dec. 20 '09 - 01:29AM    #
  60. jcp2,

    A clunker use to be a vehicle that was over five years old, nowadays, you need a vehicle over 15 years old to be a real clunker. Vehicles last 20 years or more today. Cash for Clunkers replaced a lot of SUV’s built in the late 90’s with fuel efficient small sedans. My main point was that building vehicles involves a lot of people and creates a lot of jobs. Until recently, 15 million/year in auto sales was the norm; this past year it was barely 10 million/year in vehicle sales (China surpassed the USA in annual vehicle sales this past year.) If the Cash for Clunkers had continued, it would have played a big role in re-igniting the economy by restoring confidence.
       —ChuckL    Dec. 21 '09 - 01:25AM    #
  61. @55: “Current oil wells pump out about a third of the oil in a reservoir; more will be extracted when a higher oil price makes more elaborate methods economical.”

    A clearer way of saying “more elaborate” is more energy-intensive. The energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for oil extraction worldwide is less than 10. (A century ago it was over 100.) When that value approaches 1 (perhaps in the next 20 years), we will essentially stop using oil. At that time it will require the energy equivalent of a unit of oil to extract the same unit from the ground (or tar sands, or oil shale, etc.) No net energy will be available. (Keep in mind that oil is the most energy-rich of the fossil fuels, so we won’t be using natural gas or coal to get it either.)

    It’s not a matter of economics but thermodynamics. Economics will determine the price, however, which will be determined by supply and demand. Demand might continue to increase, with China (see #60—also keep in mind how much of our debt they control) and other developing countries increasing their use of fossil fuels. As supply declines prices will rise. Then the global economy will stall again. And so on.

    This isn’t a desire on my part, just an educated prediction. I don’t “hate cars” or have some Utopian vision.

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 21 '09 - 08:22PM    #
  62. So Steve, what kind of car do you drive, that is if you have one.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Dec. 22 '09 - 10:33PM    #
  63. I sold my Geo Metro a couple months ago. Why do you ask?

       —Steve Bean    Dec. 22 '09 - 11:00PM    #
  64. I’ve been car shopping. Lol.

    I was just curious if you owned one. Don’t read anything into the question. I admire people who make the break actually.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Dec. 22 '09 - 11:36PM    #
  65. Hey Alan… I said I’d email you but don’t have an address. Mine is Drop me a line so I can send you an update.

       —Jeff Meyers    Dec. 26 '09 - 12:49AM    #
  66. Will do Jeff. Thanks.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Dec. 28 '09 - 06:47PM    #
  67. Regarding Walkability, the National Resource Defense Council Switchboard blog has an interesting post about walkability and home values.

    They point to research underscoring that “‘Walkability’ is not just about sidewalks. Are there places you can walk to?” Using the Walk Score tool and data from 98,000 home sales in 15 metropolitan areas, economist Joe Cortright found that each increase of one point on Walk Score’s walkability scale raises home values by $700 to $3000.

    I sure have been feeling this over the last month. Just after Thanksgiving I had a minor brain hemorrhage. I couldn’t drive or bike because of my meds and condition. Without being able to walk or bus to where I needed to go I would have been in a fix. It does show me the value of living in a walkable community.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jan. 4 '10 - 03:24AM    #
  68. Chuck – I love the Walk Score, and I believe in it as a way to help figure out what sort of place you live in.

    I wonder, though, if the walkability score for home values is as much as anything about the value of those properties as possible commercial sites. Since you get bonus points on the walk score for being near businesses, it stands to reason that you home in that area could be turned into a business, and so its value reflects some maximum of residential and commercial use.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 5 '10 - 09:07AM    #
  69. Not necessarily, Ed. I haven’t reviewed the research to see if Cortright controlled for how the land was zoned, but I know my neighborhood is zoned single-family residential, not a place where you could bulldoze the homes to put up a Walmart.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jan. 5 '10 - 08:44PM    #
  70. I’m not talking about bulldoze for Walmart, Chuck – I’m thinking more about the kind of blur you get in neighborhoods where the zoning is such that a single family house is across the street from a duplex with a dentist’s office downstairs, or a commercial street (like Third St in Marquette) where quite a few of the businesses are in houses.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 6 '10 - 10:00AM    #
  71. Slide 14 in the slideshow lists the variables they measured and tried to control for. It does include centrality and job access, but those are at best imperfect proxies for what you’re describing.

    Any ideas how to control for that?

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jan. 6 '10 - 08:56PM    #
  72. I don’t think you need to control for it, Chuck, as long as you understand it’s there. Walkscore tends to promote neighborhoods where there is mixed retail and residential, and to rank down neighborhoods that are strictly zoned to be entirely residential. It would give you the best score for a given level of commercial development if businesses were scattered throughout an area rather than segregated off into shopping districts, and the only way to make that happen is to have a kind of mixed office/residential/retail zoning that’s atypical of modern urban planning.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 7 '10 - 12:00PM    #
  73. The Walk Score website does not factor in the QUALITY of the walk, that’s for sure. My previous home was close to Maple Village and the score was a 58 out of 100. (May not sound great, but I was surprised it was that high.) The map with the results indicated all of the wonderful services available to us at the nearby Maple Village, like groceries and pharmacies. What it didn’t factor in was that walking on that stretch of Dexter, west of Maple, is an invitation for an early death.

    My new home, near downtown, scored a 98, but again, quality is not a factor. It gave credit to stores like White Market and the Beer Depot for groceries. Nothing against those stores, but they are convenience stores, not grocery stores. The minus 2 was probably due to the lack of a pharmacy.

    The Walk Score is an interesting tool for comparison, but take it with a large grain of salt.

    re #69: “…I know my neighborhood is zoned single-family residential, not a place where you could bulldoze the homes to put up a Walmart.”

    Clearly you haven’t been to a planning commission meeting lately.

       —Tom Whitaker    Jan. 10 '10 - 09:58PM    #
  74. Today’s New York Times has a story about this tool. It seems that the major correlation is real estate values and walk score. But it says there are also some exceptions.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jan. 11 '10 - 02:59AM    #